Susan Polgar, Josh Colas, Guy Colas
Susan Polgar with Josh Colas and Guy Colas

African-American Chess Masters Making Move to Next Level

by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Several years ago, Joshua Colas, Justus Williams and James Black Jr. all made history and headlines when they became the youngest African-American chess players to attain the rank of master—a feat they all achieved before the age of 13.

“Masters of the Game and Leaders By Example,” proclaimed a 2011 article about the trio that appeared in The New York Times.

Since then, all three have progressed in lockstep fashion to the top of the American chess scene. For instance, as of this month, Colas, Williams and Black—who all hail from the New York City area—were ranked as the 4th, 9th and 17th top chess players, respectively, in the age 17 category in the United States, according to online records maintained by the United States Chess Federation.

Justus Williams and Susan Polgar
Susan Polgar and Justus Williams

This month, all three players discovered that staying at the top of their game has paid off in a major way.

In an exclusive interview with Diverse, the three high school seniors revealed that next fall they are all headed to Webster University—home of the No. 1 ranked collegiate chess team in the United States—on full or partial scholarships.

The move is one that is “cause for celebration on many levels,” said Daaim Shabazz, associate professor of international business at Florida A&M University and editor of The Chess Drum, a website devoted to highlight chess within the African Diaspora.

“Their pending admissions open a new chapter in the history of chess as it relates to the African Diaspora and provides a path for their evolution, not only as aspiring Grandmasters but as mature men with a purpose in life,” Shabazz told Diverse. “To have an opportunity to earn a scholarship, enjoy the college experience and also pursue chess ambitions is a fortuitous position to be in.”

Indeed, during a recent visit to Washington, D.C., where they gave a simultaneous exhibition—an event in which they all played multiple players at once—the three young chess masters expounded on the opportunities that await them as incoming freshmen at Webster University, located in St. Louis, Mo., which is regarded as the National Chess Capital.

“Financially, our parents are very happy they don’t have to pay $70,000 just for us to go to school,” said Colas, who plans to study computer science. “Instead, I get to go to college for free because of a God-given talent. To get that opportunity is something that I can’t miss out on.”

Colas, who was the first of the three to commit to Webster, said it’s an added bonus being able to go to Webster with his longtime compadres in chess.

Jehron and Nigel Bryant, Justus Williams, Joshua Colas, James-Black with Susan Polgar
Jehron and Nigel Bryant, Justus Williams, Joshua Colas, James-Black

“To go to school together it’s a big encouragement since we all grew up playing chess together at a young age and going to tournaments and making good friends with each other,” Colas said. “To go to college with each other (is) something I look forward to.”

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